HC Deb 17 May 1979 vol 967 cc385-92
Mr. James Callaghan

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

As the House is already aware, the subjects for the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, which will be brought to a conclusion on 22 May, are as follows: Today—Housing and local government.

Friday 18 May—Foreign affairs.

Monday 21 May—Industrial policy and employment.

Tuesday 22 May—The economy, pay and prices.

Wednesday 23 May—Debate On Welsh affairs.

Thursday 24 May—Second Reading of the Kiribati Bill.

Friday 25 May—It will be proposed that the House should adjourn for the spring bank holiday until Monday 11 June.

Mr. Callaghan

Will the Leader of the House convey to whoever will be speaking for the Government on Monday and Tuesday that we would welcome answers then to our questions on the matter of the future of the Standing Commission on comparability and what the policy of the Government will be in relation especially to the staging of any future increases that they may propose? Are we to take it that, in the light of the abandonment of staging of Armed Forces and police pay, staging will not be proposed for the local authority manual workers the nurses, the teachers and the other groups who are now affected?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall convey to my right hon. Friends the request of the Leader of the Opposition.

Sir Bernard Braine

My right hon. Friend mentioned the Kiribati Bill. If that is identical to the Bill that was introduced by the former Government, he will know that it contains proposals concerning the Banabans that are totally un- acceptable to many hon. Members. First, will he confirm that there will be no attempt to push the Bill through all its stages in one day? Secondly, will he confirm that the Committee stage will not take place until the talks that are being held this week under the distinguished chairmanship of the Prime Minister of Fiji have been concluded and properly assessed?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important question. I know the personal interest that he has shown ill the Bill. I give him the undertaking that a second day will be devoted to the remaining stages of the Kiribati Bill. It is likely that they will be taken shortly after the House reassembles after the Whitsun Recess.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Has the right hon. Gentleman received any information from the Opposition concerning their dissatisfaction, in any respect, with the humble Address? If so, when will the terms of any motion, and the evenings on which they might be taken, be known? Will the debate on Friday 25 May take place entirely upon the motion for the Adjournment?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

So far I have had no intimations of dissatisfaction with the Gracious Speech from any hon. Members. Matters concerning amendments are for the Chair, and not for me. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was correct in what he said about the debate on the Adjournment.

Mr. Emery

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on assuming his task as Leader of the House? Will he pay some attention to the second paragraph on page 3 of the Gracious Speech, by which hon. Members are to be given an opportunity to make decisions on procedure? May we have an assurance that the Leader of the House will bring forward motions in order that we may start the special Committees, which many hon. Members wish to be introduced, as quickly as possible and before the Session proceeds much further?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations on my being appointed to this office. I am well aware that it is a great honour to occupy this office. I am also aware that while my duty is to get Government business through the House I also have duties to all hon. Members to see that the rights of Back Benchers on both sides are respected and to respect the rights of the minority parties.

As for the question on procedure, the commitment in the Conservative manifesto is quite plain—that the House will have an early opportunity to decide on the recommendations of the Procedure Committee—and that commitment will be honoured.

Mr. Foot

On next Friday's business, is the right hon. Gentleman proposing that the spring bank holiday Adjournment motion should be taken on Friday, with the individual Adjournment motions? The motion for the Adjournment giving the dates of the recess is normally debated earlier in the week. I hope that the Government will reconsider that aspect, particularly if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to start by considering the convenience of Back Bench Members and other hon. Members. May we have the Adjournment motion at an earlier stage in the week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). I am sorry if I did not make the point plain. The Adjournment motion will precede the debate on Welsh affairs on Wednesday, when there will be an opportunity for hon. Members to raise particular subjects. There will then be an Adjournment debate on Friday 25 May. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the matter.

Mr. Beith

How soon will the promised early vote on capital punishment take place? Will it be on a motion that can be amended, so as to allow a wide range of issues to be voted upon?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This, again, is a matter of a commitment made in the Conservative manifesto, which was that there would be an early opportunity for the House to express its mind on this issue. I cannot give a date for it at this moment, but that commitment will be honoured.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my right hon. Friend please find time next week for the House to debate and decide upon the proposal by the Select Committee on Procedure that we should alter our hours of sitting on Fridays? Does he realise that it would be for the general convenience of the House for this question to be determined as early as posible, since it affects the arrangements that hon. Members on both sides of the House may wish to make for the remainder of the Session?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I should like the decision to be made on that and on other matters in the procedure report as quickly as possible, but I am afraid that that cannot be fitted in next week.

Mr. George Cunningham

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we will all respect the words that he expressed a few minutes ago about his obligations to all hon. Members, especially Back Benchers, on both sides of the House, but that some of us feel that his putting forward of item No. 1 on the Order Paper today—a motion which was tabled only late last night and which very directly affects the rights of Back Benchers—is a sad beginning? Will he therefore make time available next Monday or Tuesday to consider the first item on the Order Paper today?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have been put to the test early on—

Mr. Cunningham

The right hon. Gentleman has failed it.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

No, I have not failed it yet. I will consider what the hon. Gentleman said and, in order to show my good will, if he objects to that procedure I shall withdraw it.

Mr. Cunningham

I thank the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Has my right hon. Friend noticed early-day motion No. 1, which stands on the Order Paper in the names of myself and 56 other hon. Members?

[That this House calls upon the Leader of the House to re-establish a Select Committee on Overseas Development to monitor overseas development policy pending any alternative provision which may arise if action is taken to implement the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure.]

Do the Government propose to reestablish the traditional Select Committees pending any other decision by the House arising out of a debate on the Procedure Committee's report—a debate that is promised in the Gracious Speech?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My hon. Friend raises an important point. It would clearly be desirable to proceed as quickly as possible to whatever modifications are proposed without having Committees appointed for temporary purposes. However, the Select Committees have important work that should be finished, and I propose that they be reappointed at an early date, on the understanding that their continuance in being depends on the decision of the House.

Mr. Coleman

What will be the motion before the House for Wednesday's debate on Welsh affairs?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot say at this moment, but the wishes of the Welsh Members will be taken into account.

Mr. Skinner

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that during last winter there were many applications by Tory Back Benchers for debates about pay claims, and so on? In order to avoid the sordid spectacle of Tory Back Benchers demanding Standing Order No. 9 debates on the teachers' pay claims, will he arrange for a debate on this matter? In that way, those of us who want to cast our votes in the Lobby in support of that pay claim, which is in line with the Houghton recommendations, can do so. Will the right hon. Gentleman put the matter on the business programme for next week, or the week after?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's words, but there are very few days before the Whitsun Recess. I see nothing sordid about my hon. Friends exercising their parliamentary rights under the procedure of the House.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has made a number of interesting statements this afternoon about the future of the Select Committees. May I put two questions? May we have a debate on their future before the Summer Recess? May we take it that the Select Committee on Science and Technology is one of the Select Committees to which he will consider giving a future life, pending a longer-term decision?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that we shall have an opportunity to debate the recommendations on procedure before the Summer Recess. Although I cannot guarantee that I shall certainly make my best efforts in that direction. The future of the Select Committee on Science and Technology must be a matter for the House and not for me.

Mr. Heffer

Since the Minister for Consumer Affairs said earlier that the bread price rise would be allowed, in view of developing unemployment in the baking industry, and since the Mother's Pride bakery in my constituency is about to close, will the right hon. Gentleman give us a firm assurance that there will be an early debate on the future of the industry, so that the Government may announce that, thanks to the price rise, those workers will not now be put out of work?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the serious unemployment situation on Merseyside and I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman said.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call the four hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye.

Mr. William Hamilton

Since the Leader of the House made a correction about the timing of the Adjournment debate, will he now reconsider his answer to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about the form of next Friday's debate? How will the time be allocated next Friday? With regard to the first item on the Order Paper, which the right hon. Gentleman has said he will withdraw, and since he seems to have got off to a very bad start in his new job, will he now give an assurance that the rights of Back Benchers to introduce Bills under the Ten Minutes Rule and to introduce other Bills will be fully protected?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I see that the hon. Gentleman is in good form. I can certainly give the assurance about Ten-Minute Bills. The list of topics for debate on Friday will be available from Mr. Speaker's office on Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

There is a motion on the record passed by the House in the last Parliament to appoint a Select Committee to consider the sanctions-busting referred to in the Bingham report and the role of Ministers and civil servants in that affair. What is the proposal of the Leader of the House in relation to that motion, which is still current?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My right hon. Friends with responsibilities in this matter will be considering what action, if any, we should take.

Mr. English

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that many Members on the Opposition Benches fully support the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery)? We would therefore like the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the answer that he gave to another hon. Member. Once he has set up Select Committees not in the Procedure Committee's report—Committees which will have Chairmen wishing to defend their particular positions, and so forth—he will find it very difficult to make any changes. Will he give us an assurance that he will have the debate on the first special reports of the Procedure Committee, involving three motions, before any Select Committees are set up?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is a complicated matter. It would be more desirable to proceed as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but, having looked into it, I have found it impossible to move as quickly as that. I think it is important that, pending the decision of the House, these Committees should be set up in order that their important work should be concluded.

Mr. Canavan

May we have a statement soon about the action that the Government intend to take following the report by the Department of Trade into the asset-stripping activities financed by the Keyser Ullmann bank, with which the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) is associated?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The report has been published and no doubt it will be studied by members of the Government as well as Members of the House.